By Journal Sports Staff
MARQUETTE — A group of nine hardy runners, most from Marquette County, gathered as closely as coronavirus pandemic-mandated social distancing would allow on a gloomy morning on Sept. 12 and ran the Marquette Marathon course from Ishpeming to Marquette.
All nine were running the Marquette Marathon Virtual Run. The actual marathon has been scheduled for a week earlier but was canceled while being replaced with the “virtual” run.
Four of these runners — Kara Graci and Bill Sved of Marquette, Karen Nelson of Gwinn and Peter Wertanen of Negaunee — made their run count doubly as they were also running the Boston Marathon Virtual Experience.
The other five joining them were Graci’s husband Sam Graci of Marquette, Maija Niemi of Ishpeming, Nancy Krusic of Manistique, Bob Tervonen of Ironwood and Wayne Christopherson of Alpena.
The Boston Marathon was scheduled for April 20 before being postponed to Sept. 14, then canceled outright to become another virtual event. Only those who had registered for the spring Boston event could qualify to run its Virtual Experience, according to Sved.
Their date to run was chosen in advance to fall within the time period established for the Boston Marathon Virtual Experience. Even with a forecast of all-day rain, the first eight miles were completed before the rain caught up to them. The rest of the time only a light rain fell, which Sved reported had no adverse effect on the competitors’ performances or attitudes.
The Marquette Marathon course was even re-created with eight aid stations supported by family and running friends, who included Christie Pruett, Bill Pyle, Rob and Deanna Sved, Bucky Innerebner, Brian Nelson, Ron Tervo, Gary and Gail Zanetti, and Keith Kuykendall. Along with making it feel more like an event than just a training run, these aid stations meant the runners didn’t have to carry their own water and electrolyte drinks over the entire distance.
The runners “set” and then “go” at around 7:30 a.m., and with all nine familiar with the course having run it multiple times, quickly broke into groups of two and three, settling into paces to accommodate their own abilities to run 26.2 miles.
The Gracis led the field as Sam planned to run with Kara at her pace as long as possible. At 16 miles, Sam let Kara go on her own and ran to 18 miles.
Kara went on to set a personal record for the marathon, finishing in 3 hours, 30 minutes, 26 seconds, which would have been a Boston qualifier if it had been a certified that way.
Tervonen and Wertanen ran together, giving each other credit for pressing the pace. Wertanen had just run the No Frills Marathon in Minoqua, Wisconsin, on a hilly course in 4:02:22 six days earlier and was looking to better that. While Tervonen reported he had gotten in quality training, he also had nagging injuries that prevented him from being able to race at his goal.
Together, they focused on the run and encouraged each other, Sved noted. Tervonen finished in 3:52:01 with Weteranen within 10 seconds in 3:52:10. Of his 28 marathon finishes, Wertanen has only had two that were faster as this time would have been a Boston qualifier. Tervonen said he was satisfied with his performance based on his training, adding he was grateful to be running with someone after nearly all of his training was solitary.
Nelson, Krusic and Niemi ran together for much of the way before separating for their own pace to the finish. Nelson finished in 4:01:15, a Boston qualifier, Krusic in 4:06:01 and Niemi in 4:12:02.
Sved and Christopherson also ran together for the entire distance and switched off, keeping an even pace. While Christopherson has run the Marquette Marathon before, he was a bit uncertain at a few points on the course and relied on Sved, who has run each of these local marathons, and also been a course measurer of the route.
Right up to the Third Street finish, they were together with Sved finishing in 4:42:09 and Christopherson seconds back in 4:42:19.
While this pair thought they were the last of the finishers, they found out later that a 10th runner, Mark Janofski, had planned to run the Marquette Half Marathon virtual run at 8:45 a.m., but was delayed by unexpected road construction and was a few minutes behind Christopherson and Sved. He made it to several aid stations before they were taken down and finished his half marathon in 2:19:16.
Sved mentioned that the overcast day with rain turned out to be a good thing, as fewer pedestrians and bicyclists were on the Iron Ore Heritage Trail and Marquette’s multi-use paths.
And reaching their goals put smiles on all the runners’ and volunteers’ faces, Sved added, particularly in a year where most in-person events have been canceled.
Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.